Last week’s heartbreaking revelations about the brutal and needless beating death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis have once again revived calls for increased accountability for police in the U.S.
One of the most critical reforms needed is the abolition of qualified immunity, which continues to shield police misconduct and prevent desperately needed change.
As the world saw when Memphis police released graphic video footage on Friday, five Memphis police officers brutally beat Tyre Nichols during a traffic stop on January 7. He died from his injuries three days later.
Communities across the country were devastated by the shocking violence depicted in the video documenting the horrific murder of Tyre Nichols, which raises a painfully persistent question: Why does this keep happening?
The Need to End Qualified Immunity
At least one reason why public officials and police departments have failed to make the changes needed to eliminate police misconduct and violence is that they have been shielded from accountability by qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity is a court-created rule that limits victims of police violence and misconduct from holding officers accountable when they violate a person’s constitutional rights.
The doctrine provides that a police officer cannot even be sued for compensation unless the person suing proves both that the conduct was unlawful and that there is a prior court case with nearly identical facts that says the police actions were illegal.
Qualified immunity often acts as an “absolute shield” against accountability for police officers, even when there’s no dispute that they used excessive force.
The killing of Tyre Nichols underscores the urgency of eliminating qualified immunity and removing this serious obstacle to accountability and change.